Kyle, first week together, in our room at the Hotel Montana, Port au Prince, Haiti
We began our adoption process in January 2004. All we knew was that we were ready to start a family and we had a lot to give. We were open to anything and knew from the beginning that race, gender, or place-of-origin did not matter to us. We did some research, but very quickly decided on Haiti. We felt, all along, that Haiti chose us (not the other way around). The primary reason we went with Haiti was because, simply, in our opinion, Haiti had the most need. It was straight-forward for us and felt like an obvious choice. At the same time as we began the adoption process we also began the process of learning all that we could about Haiti. During our year-long wait (now 1 year seems impossibly short for Haitian adoption, but at the time it felt like an eternity), we spent a lot of our time learning about Haiti. We read a ton, talked to everyone who knew anything, and scoured the internet. At the time, most of the people we encountered in our day-to-day lives didn’t even know where in the world Haiti was located. It was not on the radar for the vast majority of people, nor would it have been for us if we hadn’t been adopting from there.
We knew that it was going to be up to us to instill in our children a sense of connection to their place of birth. We knew that it was entirely our responsibility to raise them with an intrinsic understanding of their Haitian roots. We knew that it was on us, and us alone, to foster their pride in, and compassion for, Haiti. We took this on with little hesitation, and made it our own. By the time they came home, we, as Kyle and Owen’s parents, were pretty well-read, aware, and able to hit the ground running. Our boys were eight months old but we talked to them, daily, about Haiti. I don’t think one day has gone by since then that we haven’t talked about Haiti.
We’ve fostered in Kyle and Owen a deep and true love for Haiti. That is something of which we are extremely proud (I think it is right up there as one of top few things of which we are most proud in our parenting so far). But it is complicated. Very, very complicated. In so many, many ways. Haiti is a place they don’t consciously remember, an island they left at a young age, a world far removed from their day-to-day lives that they can’t possibly fully understand — but it is their place, it is their land, it is their roots — and they know it, and they feel it. I guess I did not completely comprehend the extent to which this was true until these past few days. Haiti is in their minds, in their hearts, and in their souls. In the most profound, inexplicable ways. I have heard things from my boys in the past few days that I would not have anticipated or predicted. Phrases, and ways of saying things, that have stopped me and given me chills. Ways of talking about their homeland (I write that word consciously) that make me want to cry– in more ways than one. Yes, they were adopted to white American parents. But Kyle and Owen are Haitian through and through ~~ in ways that I wasn’t fully aware of two weeks ago.
On Saturday we were eating lunch in a restaurant that had televisions all over the place broadcasting sports. In the middle of lunch Owen, Braydon, and Meera headed to the bathroom and during those few minutes that they were gone from the table an advertisement came onto the television fund-raising for Haiti earthquake relief. A few images were shown on the ad. It was unavoidable, and Kyle saw it. In between bites of macaroni and cheese he said to me, very mournfully, “Mommy, that is our land.” I said, “Yes, it is. It is all of our land” (motioning around the table, to say, ‘it is all of our family’s land — we are all in this family connected to Haiti’ — trying to help him feel that he’s not alone in this). He corrected me, “No, that’s my land. I was born there. It is my land. It is me and Owen’s land.” “Yes, you’re right. It is your land,” I said, trying to let it be what it was. A minute or two of silence and then I said, “How does it make you feel when you see pictures like that?” He said, “Sad. It makes me sad. Because it is my people. I wish it happened here instead. I wish we had an earthquake instead of them.”
Things I’ve heard my boys say in the past few days, that I never saw coming:
“Our houses fell down.”
“Our people are hurt.”
“Our land got shaked.”
Earthquakes are at the forefront of their minds. It comes out in their play. Climbing high in a tree, they shake the branches on purpose, as hard as they can, and I listen as they play it through together: “We’re in a huge earthquake! It is shaking! Everything is falling!” In the house they pretend that they are rescuing people from the rubble: “Quick! Someone is stuck in here and we have to get them out before they die!! Hurry! Get them some water!” In the sandbox today they were mixing buckets of rainwater with sand saying out loud to each other, “We’re going to make the houses with floors and strong, no dirt-floor-houses, no houses that could fall in earthquakes.”
All this time we’ve been so conscious of their Haitian roots. All this time we’ve been working to build a foundation of pride in our Haitian-American sons. But never, never, could we have imagined the way life would all play out. And so, everything has changed, and yet nothing has changed. And they are Haitian through and through.